Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
True Name

A convention of Magic is that knowing a TN gives power over the thus-named Demon, Dragon, Witch, Wizard or whatever. In the well known Grimm Brothers tale, Rumpelstiltskin must be named to be defeated. The TN is shorthand for deep understanding of the named thing's essence, identity or Achilles' Heel, and is usually well guarded. The Horned King in Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three (1964) perishes when his TN is eventually divined by a pig who is an Oracle; the Lamia in Brian Stableford's The Last Days of the Edge of the World (1978) clearly wants surcease but remains in Bondage until her TN has been laboriously called forth. When magic requires the TN to be spoken, an obvious Quibble arises: Larry Niven's Warlock in "Not Long Before the End" (1969) has a TN impossible to pronounce, while the demon in Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters (1988) is strategically named WxrtHltl-jwlpklz. Ursula K Le Guin gives TNs proper dignity in A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), as the nouns of the True Speech of Creation, which confer a self-limiting power – since a wizard desiring to enchant the whole sea must truly name its every reach, bay, cove, inlet, strait, shore ... ad infinitum. The correspondence of TN and Soul is emphasized in Le Guin's The Farthest Shore (1972), where giving up one's TN is the price asked for an ugly semblance of Immortality. [DRL]

see also: Kalevala; Magic Words.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.